ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) yesterday extended an emergency exemption and associated regulatory relief for U.S. motor carriers, including fuel haulers, citing rising COVID-19 cases and the continued pandemic-related state of emergency in the United States. NACS on Monday had asked the agency to include fuel transport in the extended declaration.
The declaration waives hours of service rules (49 CFR § 395.3) when carriers are providing direct assistance in support of relief services or essential supplies related to the COVID-19 emergency.
“A continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains,” the agency said. “This notice continues the relief granted in Emergency Declaration 2020-002, as modified on June 15, 2020, August 15, 2020, and December 1, 2020, through November 30, 2021, subject to the restrictions and conditions set forth herein unless modified or terminated sooner. This extension and amendment of the Emergency Declaration addresses national emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies and provides necessary relief from the FMCSRs for motor carriers and drivers.”
NACS joined a letter Monday with the National Association of Truckstop Operators, Energy Marketers of America and Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America to Meera Joshi, the acting administrator of the FMCSA, seeking to have fuel haulers included in the nationwide COVID-19 emergency declaration.
“A unique combination of driver shortages—which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic—supply constraints and wildfires have left many in our industry concerned with their ongoing ability to provide fuel, food and goods to the traveling public including our professional truck drivers,” the industry letter states. The groups noted that the prior waivers the agency has granted during the pandemic and the Colonial Pipeline shutdown this spring “made a meaningful impact on our ability to ensure that the limited supply of fuel that was available could be transported efficiently to various locations across the Southeast.”
Waiving hours of service for fuel haulers “will help minimize the impact that the pandemic has had on supply and mitigate the driver shortage’s impact on the trucking industry,” the industry letter states. “Allowing drivers to occasionally work more hours will reduce the number of trucks and drivers it takes to move the same amount of fuel. Furthermore, the HOS waiver will prevent consumers from having to pay higher delivery fees as a result of the threat to consistent and fast delivery services because of the countrywide driver shortage.”
The truck driver shortage is expected to balloon to more than 160,000 positions by 2028, up from an estimated shortfall of 60,800 drivers in 2018. “The American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that—accounting for both industry growth and drivers that leave the profession—nearly 1.1 million new drivers will be needed over the next decade, equaling to just under 110,000 drivers per year,” the industry letter notes.
FMCSA said the extended and amended emergency declaration takes effect today and remains in effect until 11:59 p.m. (ET) November 30, 2021, unless modified or terminated by the FMCSA.
Separately, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp yesterday suspended enforcement of federal limits on hours of service for commercial vehicle operators in Georgia, home to deepwater ports and inland barge terminals. He also loosened weight restrictions for trucks on Georgia highways. Gov. Kemp updated his executive order declaring a COVID-19 state of emergency. The adjusted trucking rules will remain in effect for the next 30 days, or until the state of emergency is lifted, whichever is shorter.
SNAP Hot Food Waivers
Separately, the Food and Nutrition Service has approved Louisiana’s request to allow recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase hot foods with their benefits at SNAP-authorized retail food stores through September 29, 2021. The agency cited power outages and displacement from homes following Hurricane Ida.